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OBSERVATORY-FUNES Aug-21-2006 (390 words) xxxi

Pope appoints Argentine Jesuit to head Vatican Observatory

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes, 43, to be the new director of the Vatican Observatory.

The astronomer, an expert on disk galaxies, has served as a staff astronomer at the Vatican Observatory since 2000.

Father Funes succeeds U.S. Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, 73, who had served as director since 1978.

The observatory staff divides its time between facilities at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The observatory traces its origins back to the observational tower erected at the Vatican by Pope Gregory XIII in 1578 in preparation for reforming the Western calendar. The tower began being used for astronomy in 1800. Pope Leo XIII formally established the Vatican Observatory in 1891, and it has been entrusted to the Jesuits since 1934.

Father Funes, the new director, was born in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1963 and earned a master's degree in astronomy from the National University of Cordoba in 1985.

He entered the Society of Jesus the same year, earning a degree in philosophy in Argentina before being sent to Rome for theological studies. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1995.

According to the Vatican Observatory Web site, he specializes in "extragalatic astronomy."

Father Coyne was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. However, Father James Bowes, superior of the Jesuit community in Tucson, said Father Coyne would remain on the observatory staff.

In a memo on the Tucson diocesan Web site Aug. 21, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said that Father Coyne was beginning a year's sabbatical.

"With his active mind and great drive and focus, we can't envision him as ever being retired," the bishop said.

During 1979 and 1980, Father Coyne served as acting director and head of the University of Arizona Steward Observatory and the Astronomy Department. He oversaw the establishment of the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the Steward Observatory in 1981.

He was instrumental in the establishment of the Alice P. Lennon Telescope with its Thomas J. Bannan Astrophysics Facility, known together as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, at the Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor in Washington.


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